Fatal games of the 'Black Widow'

A high-rolling 64-year-old has confessed to four murders to finance her lifestyle - and there may yet be others, reports Adrian Bridge from Vienna
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The Independent Online
FOR YEARS, Elfriede Blauensteiner was a star turn at the roulette tables of Vienna and nearby Baden. With her lavish fur coats, glittering jewellery and engaging manner, she was the epitome of the wealthy grande dame. She was generous, too. When fellow gamblers ran out of chips, she was happy to give them some of hers. Money was no object; the game was all.

As in the casinos, so in life: Mrs Blauensteiner liked to play for high stakes. But outside, the gamble was with life itself. And for those who played against her and lost, the outcome was death.

In fact, by the end of last week, the 64-year-old grandmother of four, had confessed to no fewer than four murders in one of the most remarkable cases the country has seen.

Most of the victims were lonely, elderly, and above all wealthy. Most were men; they included her second husband, Rudolf. And most had responded to adverts placed in the lonely-hearts columns of the Austrian press in which a "homely housewife and nurse" offered her services as a "caring companion".

In each case the method of murder was slow, gradual poisoning, over a protracted period, with a drug designed for use by diabetics. And in each case Mrs Blauensteiner gained handsomely from the deaths - usually hundreds of thousands of pounds, most of which she frittered away at the casinos.

According to Austrian police, who have also detained her lawyer in connection with the falsification of wills, there may be more confessions to come.

But even as it stands, the so-called "Black Widow" case has deeply shocked Austria's staid and conservative society. It has also drawn comparisons with another gruesome chapter in the country's recent history: the infamous story of the nurses who in the 1980s killed several elderly patients in their care.

Until her arrest earlier this month, little was known about Elfriede Blauensteiner. To her neighbours in the flats where she lived she was merely an unconventional widow who occasionally liked to show off her wealth by showering them and their children with lavish gifts. To her daughter and grandchildren she was even more of a fairy godmother, once giving her daughter some pounds 100,000 simply because the firm for which she was working went bankrupt.

Police say Mrs Blauensteiner has admitted that ever since her impoverished childhood she had only one goal in life: to get rich. But it was not until 1986, when she was already well into her 50s, that she hit upon the means of achieving her aim.

At the time, she was "treating" a 78-year-old diabetic, Otto Reinl, who needed the drug Euglucon to bring down the sugar level in his blood. The police say she experimented on Mr Reinl, giving him far higher doses than prescribed and discovering that, if administered over a long period, such medication can be fatal.

Although Mrs Blauensteiner denies killing Mr Reinl, she has admitted that she used Euglucon to kill her second husband, who died aged just 52 in 1992.Careful not to arouse suspicion, she began spiking his drinks with very small amounts of the drug until the sugar level in his blood sank so low that he had to be admitted to hospital. Once he was cured and back home, the procedure was repeated, until everyone got used to the fact that Mr Blauensteiner was a sick man. When, finally, he was given a dose he was unable to withstand, nobody was surprised at his premature death.

Soon his widow was choosing her next victim, an 84-year-old woman neighbour. Having persuaded the woman to leave her all her savings, she applied the lethal dose.

She has also admitted killing two more men, Friedrich Docker, 65, and Alois Pichler, 76, both last year. She was left a house worth pounds 200,000 by Mr Docker, who died just a year after answering one of her ads.

But in the case of Mr Pichler, the "Black Widow" took one gamble too many. Desperate to get her hands on his pounds 400,000 home, she compressed her "treatment" into just a few weeks. Her other victims died in hospital, but Mr Pichler suffered a nightmarish end at home after being stripped naked and left to freeze in a locked room with the windows open.

And having failed to get him to change his will in her favour, Mrs Blauensteiner had a false one drawn up. A relative became suspicious and alerted the police.

According to one of the officers leading the investigation, Mrs Blauensteiner has shown no remorse. On the contrary, she says all her victims deserved to die. She also says she is looking forward to prison - where she will not have to cook for herself and where she plans to sit down and write what will no doubt be a bestseller.